How to Choose an MBA
By Nunzio Quacquarelli, Editor of QS TopMBA.com and Director of the QS World MBA Tour
How do people decide whether to take an MBA and which school to attend? One good strategy is to adopt the following five steps in making a decision. These steps encourage candidates to take their time, assess their own personal strengths and objectives, and do their research to ensure they make the right choice.
Step 1: Career goals and feasibility
Try to narrow down the types of career you might like to pursue. Understanding what employers want and where opportunities will be plentiful should figure in your thinking. Are you geographically mobile? Do you have a strong first degree and two or more years of successful work experience? Do you have a vision of how you can progress in your current industry or function? Or are you just hoping an MBA will help you to do something new without any real plan (risky in current markets). Talk to HR managers at target companies to gain their input.
Step 2: Self-assessment
Why do you want to take an MBA? A realistic self-assessment of your abilities and skills base will help you to make a more focused selection of schools. Analyse your motivations. Do not take an MBA just because you have recently graduated and cannot find a job. Most applicants opt for an MBA to improve career prospects, learn new skills and create a personal network. Other motivators are bringing about a career change, increasing salary and starting a business. If you have lost your job in the downturn, you may choose an MBA to ride out the economic storm. But for most, it is a more strategic decision. Perhaps you see that in a year or two a recovering economy is going to need more business leaders of your profile, and an MBA will equip you to take advantage.
Step 3: Budget and study mode
The full-time MBA is still by far the most popular programme. Executive MBAs, which require a minimum of six years prior work experience and allow modular study periods while you carry on working, are growing in popularity. Part-time and distance learning MBAs are also options. The full-time MBA in America is typically two years and costs about $80,000 (£55,000) in tuition fees. In Europe London Business School and IESE offer a two-year programme, but most are one year, and tuition fees range from as little as £5,000 to as much as £42,000. An executive MBA can cost as much as £80,000. Financial aid may be available. Scholarships are offered by a variety of organisations, and many banks offer low-start loans.
Step 4: Research and selection criteria
With so many schools to pick from, you need a rational selection approach. Decide what criteria matter to you and aim to identify five schools that match up and for which you believe you can meet the entry criteria. With so many rankings producing different results, applicants are seeking alternative criteria. According to QS TopMBA applicant research, the most popular selection criteria, in order of importance, are: career placement record, return on investment, school reputation, academic staff quality, specialisations, student profile, rankings, scholarships and location. Many candidates pick a school because of a specialisation. For example, someone seeking to start their own business should look for a school with a strong entrepreneurship faculty, incubator facilities and access to venture capital. In Europe several schools specialise in this field.
Step 5: Meet the schools face-to-face
It is important to meet school representatives and alumni to make sure there is a personal fit and to confirm your research findings. Ideally, visit the school campus. If this is not possible, the QS World MBA Tour is an alternative. Admissions officers of more than 100 leading business schools visit Dubai & Abu Dhabi on the 9th & 11th of December, 2009 respectively.
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